Friday, October 24, 2014

One in six French people say they support ISIS

Two polls released this week both ask a question that you would hope wouldn't need asking: how many people support the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? Unfortunately, in all four countries surveyed, the answer is greater than zero, and by a lot.

Here is a chart of the results of the polls. The first, by ICM Research, asked people in Germany, France, and the UK whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of ISIS. The second, by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, asked Gazans whether they support or oppose ISIS. Here are the results.

ISIS poll chart

First, a caveat: while the polls of Gazans and Europeans are similar, they are not totally identical. They were conducted by different polling agencies using different methods, and the different question could skew responses, as "support" is stronger than "favor." So keep that in mind when comparing the Gaza results to the others, although it is hard to ignore that ISIS could have a higher approval rating in France than in Gaza.

In any case, the big, scary, surprising, number here is France: 16 percent of those surveyed say they support ISIS. That's an awful lot. And that number gets even larger as the demographics get younger, as shown in this by-age breakdown published by Russia Today (the poll was commissioned by Russian state media, almost certainly to tar and/or troll Western countries, but that doesn't make the findings any less disturbing):

(Russia Today)

This is alarming, in part because a growing number of Europeans, often from predominantly Muslim immigrant communities, are not just expressing their support for ISIS in polls: they are traveling to Syria and Iraq to join up. The ISIS fighter who killed American journalist James Foley on video last week spoke with a strong London accent. European governments are rightly worried about the implications of this for their own national security.

But there's more going on here. It's no secret that far-right politics have been on the rise in Western Europe, which includes a growing willingness to embrace extremism and greater intolerance of all kinds. It is ironic but by no means impossible that far-right Islamophobia would rise in Europe alongside a greater approval of the Islamist group ISIS. Extremism is often reactive and ideologically contradictory.

The growth of European intolerance has brought a rise in hate toward Jews in Europe, as well as Muslims. It's more complicated than extremism festering within predominantly Muslim immigrant communities. "There is no clear correlation in Europe between the level of popular anti-Semitism and the size of the Muslim population," the British writer Kenan Malik explained recently in the New York Times. He went on:

The rise of identity politics has helped create a more fragmented, tribal society, and made sectarian hatred more acceptable generally.

At the same time, the emergence of "anti-politics," the growing contempt for mainstream politics and politicians noticeable throughout Europe, has laid the groundwork for a melding of radicalism and bigotry. Many perceive a world out of control and driven by malign forces; conspiracy theories, once confined to the fringes of politics, have become mainstream.

The good news here may be the Gaza poll numbers. While 13 percent is exactly 13 more than what it should be, 85 percent of polled Gazans said they oppose ISIS. That's awfully high, especially considering that Europeans were much less likely to say they held an unfavorable view of the group:

ISIS poll europe 2

Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been arguing that ISIS is indistinguishable from Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza (he is wrong for a number of reasons), it turns out that at least Palestinians in Gaza see a strong distinction. While the Gaza poll did not ask for Hamas approval/disapproval, it did return favorable-sounding results on two questions: "Was the Palestinian resistance prepared for this aggression [by Israel against Gaza]," to which 58 percent said yes; and "do you support disarming the Palestinian resistance," to which 93 percent said no and 3 percent said yes.

Again, Gazans and Europeans were asked slightly different questions by different polling agencies, but it is still awfully striking that more Gazans gave the anti-ISIS response than did Western Europeans.

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